A federal appeals court on Thursday reversed a lower court, ruling that a Florida church is entitled to coverage for roof damage sustained in two hurricanes because of the policy language, despite the parties’ apparent intent.
In 2016 and 2017, respectively, Hurricanes Matthew and Irma tore through Melbourne, Florida, peeling off the Shiloh Christian Center’s roof and allowing rain to soak the exposed structure, according to the ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in Shiloh Christian Center vs. Aspen Specialty Insurance Co.
In 2015, Shiloh had specifically asked Aspen to stop covering named windstorm-related losses, which included hurricane losses. Aspen agreed, but its 2016 policy did not include the exception.
Similarly, Shiloh’s 2017 policy application asked that windstorms be excluded, but a named windstorm exclusion was not included in its policy.
Shiloh sued Aspen in US District Court in Orlando, seeking coverage for hurricane damage. The district court ruled in favor of the insurer and was reversed by a panel of three judges.
“The cardinal principle is that the text of a policy is paramount,” the judgment said.
The latter policy, like the earlier one, “contains a broad coverage clause and a detailed ‘exclusion’ provision that includes all sorts of specific exclusions but, strikingly, fails to mention “Named Windstorms,”” the ruling said in reversing the lower court and remanding the case for further processing.
Shiloh’s attorney Matthew Stubble, of Stubble PA in Indialantic, Fla., said in a statement, “The Eleventh Circuit’s opinion affirmed the Church’s position that Aspen cannot deny a claim based on an exclusion it never included in the policy it issued to its insureds. “
Aspen’s lawyers did not respond to a request for comment.